ST. PAUL -- Legislative officials finally delivered a budget bill to Gov. Jesse Ventura on Friday morning after he eluded them a day earlier to give himself more time to decide whether to veto it, a maneuver that could make it easier for him to impose unilateral spending cuts.
Michele Timmons, the revisor of statutes, and a legislative clerk gave the bill to Ventura staffers shortly after 9 a.m. Their attempts to deliver the bill to his office and finally to his residences on Thursday evening failed.
"This is unusual," Timmons said. "Prior to this, the governor's staff has always been very available."
Under Minnesota's constitution, a governor has three days, not counting Sundays, to decide whether to sign a bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
So when legislators passed the quickly-written bill to close the projected $1.95 billion budget deficit earlier Thursday, they thought it was in time to force Ventura to decide by Monday. If he vetoed it, they figured, they could attempt an override Tuesday, before a new state economic forecast is released Wednesday.
If they override a veto on Tuesday, the updated forecast would reflect the impact of the budget cuts in the bill. So the forecast could show the budget in balance, or at least much closer to being balanced.
But if Ventura vetoes the bill on Tuesday, the new forecast would still show the state at least $1.95 billion in the red for its 2002-03 fiscal biennium.
That would give the governor more ammunition for making unilateral cuts to state spending, forcing lawmakers to bargain with him to protect their favorite programs and agencies.
Legislative leaders believe the revisor's efforts to deliver the bill Thursday were sufficient to start the clock running and make Monday the veto deadline -- a legal point that remained unsettled Friday morning. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said they were considering asking Attorney General Mike Hatch for an official opinion.
Ventura closed his office at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, just 25 minutes after the Senate passed the measure and 25 minutes before a clerk tried to deliver it to him.
After hearing about the move, Roger Moe, of Erskine, the Senate majority leader and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, went to knock on Ventura's office door himself. When no answer came, Moe told reporters, "Most people in Minnesota at least work until 5 p.m."
His House counterpart, Tim Pawlenty, an Eagan Republican who's also running for governor, later angrily declared that Ventura had abandoned his duties.
Moe and Pawlenty then asked Timmons to do everything she could to get the 174-page bill to Ventura or one of his designated staff members Thursday night.
She went to the Governor's Mansion, two miles from the Capitol, but found only Ventura's adult son there. Later, a Senate lawyer, Peter Wattson, accompanied Timmons to Ventura's private residence in Maple Grove. But they were turned away by state troopers shortly after 10 p.m.
Wattson and Pawlenty declared that the effort was good enough to count for officially turning over the bill.
But Ventura's spokesman John Wodele said, "I doubt very much whether it's legal."
Wodele denied Ventura left early Thursday and said the governor's office often closes at 4:30 p.m.
Ventura had expressed displeasure with the deficit-reduction proposal ever since Moe and Pawlenty unveiled it on Tuesday. Specifically, the governor dislikes its reliance on draining the state's reserve funds without a mechanism for replenishing them. Ventura's own proposal contained tax increases and would have built the reserves back up.
He's hinted strongly he'll veto the bill but hasn't said outright he will.
Broadly, the joint bill fixes the budget gap with spending cuts of $374.2 million, the cancellation of $131 million in one-time expenditures and the use of $1.5 billion in reserves.
The Senate approved the bill by a 57-8 margin, but the 76-56 vote in the House fell short of the two-thirds support necessary to override a veto.
The House vote fell chiefly along party lines, with Democrats against it because it cuts nearly $70 million in funding for colleges and other education programs.
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